The long delayed arraignment of Andal Ampatuan Sr. for 57 counts of murder is
evidence of a dysfunctional justice system in the Philippines. While an accused like him has the right to a stay of his arraignment where he opts to challenge the existence of probable cause, the rules on criminal procedure nonetheless mandates that the suspension should not be more than 60 days reckoned from the time of the filing of the Information. Our computation indicates that the 60-day period to which Ampatuan Sr. was entitled expired in August of 2010. Yet, it is only today, 1 June 2011, when he is actually being arraigned.
There is more reasons to worry. Andal Sr’s arraignment was made possible
only because he voluntarily agreed to it. Never mind that the prosecution
has had a pending motion to have all the accused in custody to be arraigned. The Court has not acted on this motion. This is alarming because seemingly, it was not the rules that compelled Andal Sr to enter a plea. On the contrary, it was only because he agreed to it- as if an accused can now rewrite the rules to suit his ends.
The Center for International Law, an affiliate of the Southeast Asia Media Legal Defense Network, private prosecutor representing media victims of the massacre, submits that an arraignment done in this manner undermines the country’s rule of law. Under human rights law, all accused should be treated
alike. Here, an arraignment, made dependent on the willingness of the accused to enter a plea, and not pursuant to the rules of criminal procedures, weakens and undermines the rule of law. It proves that some accused have more rights than others. This is a truly sad commentary on the state of our criminal justice system.
Neither do we think that altruism is behind Andal Sr’s voluntary arraignment. To date, at least three of his sons, Zaldy, Sajib, and Akmed, have also not been arraigned, despite the lapse of the mandatory 60 days suspension. We believe that the voluntary nature of Andal’s arraignment is intended to deflect the public’s attention away from the controversy that has by now surrounded the Petition for reviews filed by Andal’s sons in the Court of Appeals. At least one columnist, Mon Tulfo, has written that at least 200 million circulated in the high court to effect the release of at least one of Andal’s sons.
Ultimately, this is why there is impunity in the Philippines. Despite a change in administration, the justice system is simply not working and its rebuilding- has not been made a priority.#30#